Undocumented Worker Can Proceed With Retaliation Case

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By Laura D. Francis

June 6 — An undocumented immigrant can go forward with his claim that he was put on indefinite unpaid leave in retaliation for filing a workers' compensation claim, the Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled ( Sanchez v. Dahlke Trailer Sales, Inc. , 2016 BL 179165, Minn. Ct. App., No. A15-1183, unpublished 6/6/16 ).

The decision shows that where immigration and labor and employment laws intersect, the courts usually fall on the side of protecting immigrant workers, regardless of their immigration status.

Anibal Sanchez presented a factual issue as to whether Dahlke Trailer Sales Inc. knew of his undocumented status years earlier, but only took action after he sought to recover for a workplace injury, the court said June 6 in an unpublished decision. That was enough to make summary judgment in favor of the employer improper, it found.

Status Doesn't Preclude Claim

The court also ruled that undocumented immigrants can bring claims under the retaliatory discharge provision of the Minnesota Workers' Compensation Act.

The federal Immigration Reform and Control Act makes employing undocumented immigrants illegal, but is meant to keep employers from hiring them, the court said. “Allowing an employer to escape potential liability” under the retaliatory discharge provision “on the basis that the worker is undocumented does not discourage the employer from hiring undocumented workers at the outset,” Judge Denise D. Reilly wrote for the court.

The court also rejected Dahlke Trailer Sales' argument that Sanchez's suspension wasn't an adverse action supporting a retaliatory discharge claim. “Here, respondent placed appellant on indefinite and unpaid leave, resulting in a loss of salary and benefits,” Reilly wrote. “Reduction of an employee's salary constitutes a ‘material change in the terms and conditions' of employment.”

The court asked the district court to further develop the record as to whether Dahlke Trailer Sales had a legitimate, nonretaliatory reason for putting Sanchez on leave and whether that reason was pretextual.

Judges Francis J. Connolly and Lawrence B. Stauber joined the decision.

Madia Law LLC represented Sanchez. Drawe & Heisick represented Dahlke Trailer Sales.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laura D. Francis in Washington at lfrancis@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com